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Determinants of South African Women’s Labour Force Participation, 1995–2004


  • Benhura, Miracle

    () (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)


A striking feature of labour supply in South Africa is the phenomenal expansion in the labour force participation of women from 38 percent in 1995 to 46 percent in 2004. Even so, their participation has been persistently lower than that of men whose participation rates were 58 percent and 62 percent respectively. Furthermore, analyses of women’s participation rates by race show that the rates for historically disadvantaged groups such as Africans are still lower than those of Whites. For instance, in 1995 African women had a participation rate of 34 percent and it increased to 43 percent in 2004 while the corresponding rates for White women were 52 percent and 59 percent. In light of these disparities, this paper uses survey data to examine the determinants of the low level and also of the changes in African women’s labour force participation, during the first decade of democracy (1995-2004). By focussing on a ten year period, this research substantially differs from earlier studies which were preoccupied with short periods such as one year. A longer period is analytically advantageous because it allows the capturing of the changes and the robustness of the key determinants of female labour force participation in South Africa. Such information is important not only for reviewing existing policies but also for the formulation of new ones to increase female labour force participation which is a prerequisite for economic development. The study utilises a decomposition technique devised by Even and Macpherson (1990). The findings exhibit that female participation responded positively to education which has been the prime factor. Non-labour income, marriage, fertility and geographical variations in economic development persistently stifled participation. It is argued that the perceived change in participation is due to emigration and changes in human capital and financial endowments. Another important discovery is that -9 percent of the observed shifts in the participation rates from 1995-2004 is due to disparities in characteristics while differences in coefficients account for 109 percent of the shifts.

Suggested Citation

  • Benhura, Miracle, 2007. "Determinants of South African Women’s Labour Force Participation, 1995–2004," IZA Discussion Papers 3119, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3119

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Even, William E. & Macpherson, David A., 1990. "Plant size and the decline of unionism," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 393-398, April.
    2. Mincer, Jacob & Polachek, Solomon, 1974. "Family Investment in Human Capital: Earnings of Women," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages 76-108, Part II, .
    3. Maglad, N.A., 1998. "Female Labour Supply in Sudan," Papers 30s, African Economic Research Consortium.
    4. Blundell, Richard & Macurdy, Thomas, 1999. "Labor supply: A review of alternative approaches," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 27, pages 1559-1695 Elsevier.
    5. William E. Even & David A. Macpherson, 1993. "The Decline of Private-Sector Unionism and the Gender Wage Gap," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 28(2), pages 279-296.
    6. Cecil Mlatsheni & Murray Leibbrandt, 2001. "The role of education and fertility in the participation and employment of African women in South Africa," Working Papers 01054, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
    7. Murray Leibbrandt & James Levinsohn & Justin McCrary, 2005. "Incomes in South Africa Since the Fall of Apartheid," NBER Working Papers 11384, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Ronald L. Oaxaca & Michael R. Ransom, 1999. "Identification in Detailed Wage Decompositions," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(1), pages 154-157, February.
    9. Grossbard-Shechtman, Shoshana Amyra, 1984. "A Theory of Allocation of Time in Markets for Labour and Marriage," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 94(376), pages 863-882, December.
    10. Yun, Myeong-Su, 2000. "Decomposition Analysis for a Binary Choice Model," IZA Discussion Papers 145, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    11. Geeta G. Kingdon & John B. Knight, 2000. "Are searching and non-searching unemployment distinct states when unemployment is high? The case of South Africa," CSAE Working Paper Series 2000-02, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
    12. Thomas MaCurdy & David Green & Harry Paarsch, 1990. "Assessing Empirical Approaches for Analyzing Taxes and Labor Supply," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 25(3), pages 415-490.
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    More about this item


    feminisation; labour force; decomposition analysis;

    JEL classification:

    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination

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